Mount Maoshan is in the southwest of Jiangsu Province. Its original name was Mount Juqu and it was also known as Mount Difei. It is the eighth of Daoism’s Ten Greater Grotto Heavens and the first of the Seventy-two Blissful Realms. It is said that there were three brothers here during Emperor Jingdi’s reign (157-141 BC) in the Western Han Dynasty: Mao Ying, Mao Gu and Mao Zhong. The brothers practiced austerity and cured people’s illnesses and they eventually all attained the Way and became immortals. To commemorate them, later generations changed the mountain’s name from Mount Juqu to Three Maos Mountain (Sanmaoshan 三茅山) and this was shortened to Mount Maoshan.
The Daoist palaces and courtyards on Mount Maoshan became famous as the “first under heaven,” for there were 257 sites with buildings running to a total of well over 5,000 bays when the mountain was flourishing. The devastation caused by war and other human destruction over the years later meant that only dilapidated walls could be seen. Fortunately, after the Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party’s 11th Central Committee, the government allocated funding, renovated the Nine Heavens Palace and Primodial Talisman Palace and built a winding mountain highway that leads directly to Elder Mao Peak (Da Mao Feng 大茅峰).
Myriad Blessings Palace of the Nine Heavens (Jiuxiao Wanfu Gong 九霄万福宫) is on top of Elder Mao Peak, the Mount Maoshan’s highest peak, and is known as Top Palace (Ding Gong 顶宫) for short. The palace comprises four rows of buildings that have been built from the foot to the top of the mountain.
In the first row is the Hall of the Divine General (Lingguan Dian 灵官殿). The Divine General, a Daoist guardian god is worshiped here.
In the second row is the Library of Scriptures (Cangjing Lou 藏经楼). It has two levels made entirely of brick and wood. The bottom floor is now used to keep religious artifacts and handicraft items. The top floor is the office of the Mount Maoshan Daoist Association. In the north part of the building’s top floor, there is a room on both the east and west sides. The eastern room is the Precious Canon Storehouse (Baozang Ku 宝藏库), which is a place where Daoist followers on a pilgrimage to the mountain’s temples can burn incense. The western room is Kanli Temple (Kanli Gong 坎离宫, Water Trigram-Fire Trigram Temple). Under the west wall of Kanli Temple, there is a pond, the water of which is so clear that you can see to the bottom and which never goes dry at any time of year. According to a legend, a divine dragon often swim in the pond, which has been called Heavenly Pond (Tian Chi 天池). Standing at the south of the pond is a giant “dragon wall” that is 19 meters long and six meters high, with nine different flood dragons soaring above vast waves and between clouds. Two dragons under the wall poke their heads up out of the water’s surface as if coming out of the pond.
In the third row of the Primeval Treasure Hall (Taiyuan Baodian 太元宝殿), the main building of the Nine Heavens Palace where Daoist priests chant scriptures mornings and evenings and where large-scale everyday religious activities are held. The hall’s round door is made of white carved marble, and the hall roof is covered with green tube-shaped tiles. In the middle on each of the two roof ridges is an orange-colored pottery gourd and the ridge tops are adorned with zoomorphic ornaments. The hall interior is brightly lit with high-hanging lanterns. There is a thorough range of bells, drums, qing stone chimes (percussion instruments) and ding cooking vessels. Narrow and heavy curtains complement each other, joss sticks and candles burn day and night, and the candles here are bright the whole year round. At the front of the altar, statues of the Three Perfect Sovereign Mao Brothers are worshiped: Mao Ying is in the middle with a ruyi (S-shaped scepter) in his arms; Mao Gu and Mao Zhong stand on either side holding jade gui (圭, ceremonial tapering tablets) in their hands. Others in attendance in this hall are the four supreme commanders Ma, Wen, Zhao and Yue and four gongcao (功曹, Officers of Merit) for the year, month, day and hour.
A Daoist divine island is carved at the back of the altar where the statues of the three Mao brothers are. On the island, the Daoist Holy Man of Compassionate Salvation is floating on the surface of the sea. Above the sea, the Primeval Lord of Heaven, the Heavenly Lord of Numinous Treasure, the Supreme Master, the Jade Emperor and another 28 immortals gather in the clouds. Each one of them has a different appearance and expression, and the carvings of them all have a high artistic value. Two gods are also worshiped behind the palace. In the east, there is the local God of the Earth, Liu Fu. In the west is the God of Wealth, Zhao Gongming. Between the east and west, there are 45 stone memorial tables with carvings of Mount Maoshan immortals and every generation of celestial being to have attained the Way. All these are important materials for studying the history of Daoism on Mount Maoshan.
The main buildings in the fourth row are the Rising Platform (Shengbiao Tai 升表台) and the Hall of the Two Sages. The Rising Platform is also called the Ascent-to-Heaven Platform (Feisheng Tai 飞升台) because it is said that, from there, Mao Ying ascended to heaven riding a crane. It is two meters high with an area of nine square meters on the surface, which is covered with green stone. When you look down from the top of the platform on the gentle night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the misty scenery and hazy view will make you feel that you are in heaven and that there is no mountain higher.
The Hall of the Two Sages is located behind the Ascent-to-Heaven Platform, where the parents of the three Mao brothers are worshiped. The Child-Giving Goddess and the Goddess of Eyesight are worshiped at their statues on either side of the shrines.
There are newly built imitations of ancient towers on two sides of the Hall of the Two Sages. The eastern tower is used as a Daoist house and guest area. The western tower is called Leisurely Cloud Tower (Yiyun Lou 怡云楼), in which are displayed the precious Mountain Guardian Four Treasures. The four treasures are a jade seal, jade gui tablet, jade talisman and inkstone, which have all been handed down from the Song Dynasty. The jade seal is carved from Heshi jade with seal characters cut in relief, saying “jiu laoxian doujun yin” (九老仙都君印, seal of nine old immortal sovereigns of all). The jade gui tablet is naturally smooth and transparent, the pattern on top being like a flying bat and the bottom pattern being like ranges of mountains. The gui tablet can also change color according to the different seasons. The jade talisman is white and has a solid quality. It is known as the Heart Guardian Talisman and also has an intaglio engraving of six seal characters, saying “he ming tiandi ri chi” (合明天帝日敕, bestowed by the Celestial Emperor). It is said that gods will guard a person only if he carries this talisman with him. The inkstone, called a hayan (哈砚) or heyan (呵砚), is made of jade and is a rectangle 11 centimeters long and three centimeters wide. Large drops of water appear on the inkstone when anyone breathes on it. It produces a red color now when a writing brush is dipped into it. There is a fish pattern on the inkstone, and the fish seems to be alive when the inkstone is put in water.
Premodial Talisman Perfect Tranquility Palace (Yuanfu Wanning Gong 元符万宁宫), located at the foot of Jijin Peak, was initially a place for storing Daoist seals so it is also known by the shorter name Seal Palace (Yin Gong 印宫). The palace has 13 Daoist hermitages but not all of them have been repaired yet.
Following the repairs to the ancient buildings on Mount Maoshan and the rejuvenation of the Daoist movement, the Mount Maoshan Temple Fair is undergoing a revival after an interruption of many years. The temple fair takes place from the 24th day of the 12th lunar month until the 18th day of the third lunar month the following year. At each year’s fair, Daoist priests perform Daoist rites for pilgrims and tourists. The Daoist rites consist of morning rites, afternoon rites and evening rites. The priests read scripture, clean the altar and invite, welcome and find places for the gods in the morning rites; submit memorials in the afternoon rites; and bid farewell to the gods in the evening rites. The purpose of performing Daoist rites is to pray for good fortune and to redeem lost souls by making offerings. People should abstain from eating meat and drinking alcohol and should have taken a bath three days beforehand or else the gods will find fault with them. When people return home, they must bring back two treasures. One is an incense stick to get good fortune when they return to their hometown (the pronunciation of xiang乡meaning hometown and xiang香meaning incense being the same in Chinese). The other is a golden elixir basket. There are altogether 29 such baskets, which are shaped like ordinary baskets and are each like a goose egg in size. The middle one represents the patriarch’s cauldron for making immortality pills and the other 28 in a circle around it represent the Twenty-Eight Constellations. After being invited home, the two treasures must be hung on top of a kitchen range until the day for seeing off the Kitchen God on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month. They are then incinerated together.
The Mount Maoshan Temple Fair lasts for three months and there are plenty of activities. It is not only somewhere for Daoist followers to hold religious activities but also a tourist destination for all travelers.